The road to motherhood has been challenging for two Saskatchewan women, but the hurdles they had to face also resulted in a very special friendship.
Charissa Jaarsma will be front and centre to witness her best friend, Courtney Sastaunik, finally become a mother.
As her surrogate, Jaarsma has been carrying Sastaunik and her husband’s baby for almost nine months — a journey Sastaunik has been calling on social media “Operation Make A Baby.”
“I just can’t wait to meet that little human,” said Sastaunik, who expects to hold her new baby in early November.
“It feels very surreal.”
For the mother-to-be and her husband, it has been an emotional journey with many struggles along the way.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re actually going to have a baby,” she said. “We’re so excited.”
Saskatchewan Weekend21:35Operation Make a Baby: a story of surrogacy
At age 16, Sastaunik learnt that she was born with Müllerian Agenesis — a rare syndrome in which the Müllerian duct doesn’t develop, resulting in a missing uterus.
“I was told that, ‘No, you won’t be able to carry your own children, but you do have the opportunity to have biological children of your own through surrogacy,'” she remembered.
After years of ups and downs, and many tears, Sastaunik is finally close to becoming a parent, thanks to Jaarsma, who’s now carrying her baby.
“I’m beyond excited to watch my best friend be a mom,” said Jaarsma. “I get to be there and see the expressions on their faces as they meet their baby the first time.”
The two women from Regina first bonded over their shared experiences of infertility, and the difficulties they faced along the way.
Despite helping her best friend fulfill her dream now, Jaarsma said she was in tears years ago when she received news that she and her partner couldn’t have children of their own.
Today, she’s the mother of two boys: one via adoption, the second through a donated embryo.
“My second son is also not biologically related to us, but I was blessed enough to be able to carry him in my belly and birth him,” Jaarsma explained.
It was that experience that made her want to help her friend through surrogacy, she added.
“People have helped me immensely and given me this huge gift that I’m never going to be able to repay them for,” said Jaarsma. “I might as well just pay it forward.”
Chris and Courtney Sastaunik together with Charissa Jaarsma and her husband Justin. Both couples have experienced challenges on their journeys to become parents. (Provided by Courtney Sastaunik)
The support of her friend means the world to Sastaunik and her husband, she said — especially after their first experience with surrogacy.
In November 2019, Sastaunik and her husband connected with a different surrogate through a Facebook group.
However, at the 20-week ultrasound, they discovered she lost the baby.
“Josie Irene was born sleeping at 7:39 pm on December 29 with her daddy’s ears and dimple between her nose and upper lip and her mommy’s lips and toes,” Sastaunik wrote on Instagram after the death of their baby.
The parents were able to spend some time with Josie Irene before finally saying goodbye, said Sastaunik.
“We got such little time with our girl,” she said. “But we also have these beautiful photos to help us remember, as difficult as it was, how beautiful it was.”
After losing her daughter, it was hard for Sastaunik to keep trying to become a parent, she said.
She wasn’t sure if she would ever be ready again.
Earlier this year, the couple tried again and an embryo was transferred into Jaarsma.
“It’s still hard,” said Sastaunik. “When you’ve gone through a loss, it’s hard to believe that you will actually potentially get to bring a baby home with you one day.”
Sastaunik said she and Jaarsma have been supporting each other throughout the pregnancy.
“She understands how it feels to depend on another woman to make her a mom,” Sastaunik said. “I know she’s caring for my baby the same way that I would care for my baby.”
The surrogate and parents-to-be are looking forward to welcoming the baby into the world any day now.
Jaarsma will be on maternity leave after the birth, and is grateful that — with her sons now sleeping through the night — she won’t have to deal with things like feeding the baby at night.
“I’m looking forward to our lives getting back to normal,” she said with a laugh. “But at the same time, [also] having a new baby to spoil and love and snuggle that doesn’t live in my house.”